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Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Seattle Love

Hey Seattle, I love you! I realized that I never wrote about my former-home city. When this lil blog was born three and a half years ago, I was focusing on TRAVEL and my transition to Myanmar. Seattle did get an honorary mention as my road trip and travels began, but I think she deserves her own post; don't you?

As part of my USA visit, I booked two weeks in Seattle (note to self, and friends, please remind me, next visit should be 3+) at the beginning of December. No, that's not the most beautiful weather time to visit, but my friends look just as good in the gray. ;) When the clouds finally parted, as we descended, this was my first glimpse.
Seattle, impressive rain or shine
The first week I stayed at R's lovely home, visited a lot with Y and hit up some favorite spots. Araya's is an old favorite vegan Thai restaurant. My first meal in Seattle was at their Madison valley location; they had one restaurant when I first moved to Seattle (U-District), now they have three!

At Araya's with J, yes, I visited more than once. ;)
One of my favorite things about Seattle is the live music scene. It's also one of my most-missed aspects of living abroad. Seattle has small, medium and giant-sized music venues and there is something interesting happening every single night of the week. While living in Seattle I saw plenty of shows at the Paramount and I was amazed to see that another old favorite, the Pixies, had decided to visit Seattle on their tour at the same time as me. I managed to get a ticket to the sold-out show and they rocked as much as always. La la, love them!
A familiar landmark
As amazing as ever
Plum Bistro is an all-vegan restaurant on Capitol Hill. It's a cute, but tiny spot and they don't take reservations. Their mac n yease recipe is an experience (to die for!) and everything on the menu is delicious, whether you have dietary restrictions or not.
R and I visit Plum
It's an interesting experience to be in the states without a car. I spent a lot of money on taxis, Lyfts, Ubers, walked and got back into the bus system. I enjoy not having to own a vehicle, but that's something that is a lot harder to manage if you live in the US.
Waiting for my bus
In my first week, I also visited my beloved Eastside Prep. It has expanded and the physical layout and campus have changed a lot! Still, after visiting with former students, administrators and teachers, I would say that the soul of the place hasn't changed. Teachers: if you want to work in Seattle, apply here! Parents: if you want your kids to learn and grow in a supportive yet encouraged-to-stretch environment, apply here!

Another very vegetarian, vegan and gluten free friendly restaurant is Cafe Flora in Madison Valley. I love their tofu scrambles and coffee in the morning. Gosh, it's easy to have dietary restrictions and live in Seattle.
R, Y and I caffeinate and prepare for the day at Flora
After a week in the city I was whisked a little farther north for a couple of days to reunite with A and A (elementary school friends!). We chatted, chatted, joked and chatted one morning at the Skagit Valley Co-op in Mt. Vernon. They have a great natural market and lots of deli dishes too. My favorite was the turmeric almond milk latte.
Two old friends and one very new one.
My second week began back in Seattle, but West Seattle this time. Have I mentioned all the sunny days that Seattle shined on me? Maybe she was trying to woo me back... Too bad, during my stay here I signed a contract with would pull me south. 
Seattle skyline from West Seattle
I had my very own room at J and M's, J graciously let me use her car to attend Yoga training in Redmond at Sattva Yoga (I'm very close to finishing my 500-hour cert!), M made the best popcorn, J made the best vegan chilli, Bowie is the cuddliest kitty-company and J and I even had time to do a little touristing, too.

I was in town just in time for a show at the Skylark, featuring many friends and former colleagues playing their music.

One Sunday morning there was a reunion at A and V's new place in West Seattle. Everyone was moving too quickly for me to get any great photos (including the twins!), but here they are!
V oversees the prep
A in position barista!
J and I decided that our favorite spot for breakfast/brunch is Chaco Canyon Cafe. They have kombucha on tap and lots of delicious organic options!

Pike's Place Market, downtown is a not-to-miss spot on any Seattle tour and this trip was no exception.
Required photo shoot!
The last day was a walk along West Seattle with this one and lunch at my new favorite Thai spot outside of Thailand - Buddha Ruksa - before my airport drop. Time went super-fast and I hope I'll have time to see everyone next trip.

Thanks to all my friends for hosting me, treating me and driving (or letting me drive!) around! I've got such great memories of our time together. See you next time! Or, maybe... in Mexico???

Monday, February 5, 2018

My Trusted Housesitters Experience

In 2017 I decided to take some time off of work in order to travel, study yoga and contemplate future life options. It was a huge decision and an opportunity for me to grow, leaning into uncertainty. I was extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to save money while I worked and lived in Myanmar, but this blog is about one of my tips to make time off affordable, whether you are on your own sabbatical or simply taking a vacation: Trusted Housesitters.

About a year ago I learned about Trusted Housesitters, a site that matches traveling home and pet owners with sitters. It's an interesting arrangement because no money is exchanged; you get a great place to stay and fuzzy company and they get great petcare and home security. I investigated a bit more and decided to go ahead and sign up, even though there is an annual fee (of about $100 US). I figured that even if I only got one sit of a few days that the membership would pay for itself.

I have had a fabulous experience with the Trusted Housesitters organization and with the homes and pets I have looked after. 

Place: Bangkok, Thailand
Dog: Toby the Corgi

Who could resist that face?!?
This was a very sweet gig. Toby's home was a huge, modern top floor apartment in the trendy Thong Lor neighborhood of Bangkok. I had my own guest room, a gorgeous kitchen and a roof top with a view to enjoy.

Toby was a busy little dog, and still a puppy, but my main task was to take him up on the roof (pictured in the video above) or outside for a walk, twice a day. I spent extra time with him, playing, brushing, even doing a little training, but I had lots of free time to explore the neighborhood, Bangkok and relax in a fantastic apartment, cooking my own food, doing yoga homework, reading and enjoying Netflix. The cleaner came three times a week, which was another perk!

He did spend time chilling, too. 

Place: Taos, New Mexico, USA
Cats: Tennessee and Button

This sit allowed me to explore another part of New Mexico. I know Santa Fe well since my parents have lived there 15+ years. I secured this sit when I was still in Spain. Here is the house:

I fed these two cats their very fresh meals (raw chicken livers for breakfast and dinner and sardines for lunch), read, did yoga homework, wandered around town and spent quality time with these felines. 

I enjoyed fires in the evening. Button did too!
And slept in this princess bed.

These owners were very kind; they sent me a personal thank you after the sit!

Place: El Dorado, just outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA
Cats: Skaaget, Nauset and Graham

The owners of these three cats needed a sitter who could commit to a "maybe" because their plans were up in the air. Since I was already staying with my parents in Santa Fe, this it was easy for me to stay flexible. It worked for me and it worked for them! And in the end, I did get the sit. These owners had a special request: that no gluten be brought into their house, as one had a severe allergy. I'm 8 years gluten-free; it worked for me!

Meet the three kitties! Three is the most pets I have ever looked after. Two were very friendly and the third totally warmed up to me by the end of the week. The new skill I learned with this sit was how to give a cat pills, as Graham needed daily medicines. He was really good about my efforts and I can say I am confident doing this now!
The house was a lovely, very Santa Fe style kind of home. There was a woodstove, walking trails, a patio and I even got to use the car to zip into town for an errand or yoga class (or to visit ma n pa). 
My cozy room.
And those southwest sunsets...

---> Okay, so now you want to housesit, right? Here are a few tips. :)

Building Your Trusted Housesitters Profile:

  • Take the time to build your profile! Pretty much the rest of the tips come down to this. It is a project, but your investment of time will pay off when you get some great sits. I broke up the task, working a half hour or an hour at a time until I got it where I wanted it. 
  • Consider what title captures you as a sitter - this is the first thing viewers of your page will notice.
  • Include photos of you and animals you own/know and some that show your personality and hobbies. Homeowners want to know you... you are going to be staying in their house!
  • Be honest about your experience and what you can/can't do. There are all types of animals and sits and you want to make sure you can look after the critters you sign up for. I've seen farm animals, cats that need injections and rescue dogs that require special patience and love. Sometimes the sits require, but don't provide, a vehicle, which would mean committing to renting a car. Carefully consider what you can take on.
  • Get external references from your boss, landlord and anyone you have petsat for in the past. This helps create your profile and shows you are responsible. 
  • Go through the external verification. You pay a fee and Trusted Housesitters runs a background check on you. Having this on your profile gives petowners peace of mind. 

Applying for a Sit:

  • Check the site often or set up email notifications. It does pay off to be the first person to apply for a sit, especially in popular areas or at peak travel times. 
  • Always include a personal note that shows that you have reviewed the sit and include why you are interested and a good fit! Some owners get a lot of interest so make your note stand out.
  • Offer to talk on the phone or over Skype as well as via email. This helps them to see you are a nice person. And take the "interview" seriously!
  • Follow up if you don't hear back, but know that sometimes homeowners do get bombarded with offers or change their travel plans...

During the Sit:

  • Follow through and have fun! Most petowners will walk you through the details about the home and animals when you arrive. They may provide you with a manual with all the info (love it when they do this!); if not, ask questions and take notes!
  • Communicate often. It's easy with technology to send photos and videos, showing them that their fur-babies are happy. This keeps them happy too.

After the Sit:

  • Of course, leave the house in tip-top order! I've heard that some sitters even stock the fridge or prepare a special meal and leave it as a thank you.
  • Send a thank you note/text to express your gratitude for the time in their house. 
  • Ask that they review you on Trusted Housesitters so that you can get more sits! This is so important as reviews and trust fuel what this site is all about. 
If you are curious about signing up for Trusted Housesitters, feel free to post questions! You can get a discount off of your membership by using this link when you sign up! (Full disclosure: I get a discount when you use it, also.)

Happy traveling and happy petsitting!!!

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

The Camino Francés vs. the Camino Primitivo

One last Camino post, more than two months post-Camino, here we go! 

Okay, “versus” is in the title, but it’s not really a competition. When most people talk about “the” Camino or first hear about the pilgrimage, they are referring to the Camino Francés, the most popular Camino. However, as you learn more about the Camino, and maybe after you walk your first one, you realize that there are many paths to Santiago. This post discusses some of the advantages of the two Caminos that I know. 

The Camino Francés is the yellow route and the Primitivo is purple.  

The Camino Francés
  • At just over 800 kilometers the Camino Francés is the longer of these two options. Most pilgrims take around 30 days to do the whole thing and this gives your body time to adjust to the rhythm of walking everyday and your brain time to get out of the monkey mind of your “normal” life and settle into the Camino. I met many pilgrims who were just doing the last 100 k, from Sarria to Santiago and this really doesn’t give bodies time to adjust or allow minds to disconnect. Doing the entire Francés provides the space and time to experience a transformation. Physically stronger, mentally tougher and spiritually transformed? It could all happen by the time you arrive in Santiago! 
  • The Francés has the most services (restaurants, cafes, bars, a variety of accommodation options, stores and pharmacies). If you are thinking of your first Camino, unless you have a lot of experience backpacking, the ease of how services are organized on the French Route will help you transition into Camino life. Remember, many of these towns exist because of and for the steady stream of pilgrims over hundreds of years!A restaurant, shop and vending machine just outside of Pamplona.  
  • This route also offers the most options as far as breaking up the stages and really walking your own Camino. Since it is the most trafficked, most days you can easily walk more or less than what the guidebook says, thus really listening to your body and doing your personal Camino. My first albergue in St. Jean. The French route offers hostels, pensions, small hotels and even luxurious accommodation options. 
The Camino Primitivo 
  • The natural landscapes on the Primitivo are stunning. The other routes have some gorgeous sections, too, but the one-week flat and straight meseta of the Francés can become a bit tedious and there is definitely less asphalt on the Primitivo. The Hospitales route on the Primitivo, probably the most famous stage. No asphalt here. 
  • Most people that I met on the Primitivo had already done another Camino and were back for more. Some people feel that the French route’s popularity has caused the quality of the pilgrimage to suffer. While I still believe the French route is very special, it is true that there are a lot of Camino tourists. If you are looking for a “purer” experience, the Primitivo offers less crowds, kindred pilgrim companions and some quality albergue experiences. Sharing stories at bedtime in Bodenaya. 
  • If you want to level-up your Camino experience, then this route is going to challenge you. The stages tend to be longer and you are walkling up and over the mountains. The steep ups and downs are not for everyone! Physically, my hardest days were here (but also my happiest to arrive and some of my best sleeps). Friends and fellow pilgrims encourage you to keep going and look out for each other. 
Which Camino?
So, how do you know which Camino to do? Just like which items will end up in your backpack, it’s a personal decision. A few things to keep in mind are: the amount of time you have, previous training/experience outdoors, how busy/social you’d prefer the trail to be and presence of services that you are comfortable with. 

All offer physical and mental challenges, some amazing scenery, delicious regional cuisine and wine, unforgettable fellow pilgrims and the endpoint, that special city, Santiago... unless you keep walking to the coast, adding another little Camino to your route. ;)

My answer? Keep coming back until I’ve experienced them all. I’ve got a good rhythm going so far with half of the Francés in 2016 and the Francés, Primitivo and Coastal routes in 2017. Join me on the Portugués in 2018?!?

Camino forever!

Photo credit: M from South Korea. Taken in Itero De la Vega (on the Camino Francés).

Thursday, November 2, 2017

So, what’s in that backpack?

A lot of people have asked me what I packed, so this post is for them! 

She’s in the background of many of my photos, or maybe you just see her straps, but what exactly is in my dear traveling companion?!?

The Basics:
Deuter 24 liter backpack!
2 liter platypus (depending on the distance between villages I usually keep about 1 liter of water in it, on the Primitivo 1.5-2, as there are less services)
1 backpack rain cover 

North face hiking boots 
2 pairs of socks (I added a third pair into the mix in León)
3 pairs Patagonia underwear
2 sports bras
1 normal bra (this is an extra, but I missed having something more comfortable last year)
I pair zip-off hiking trousers
1 pair running shorts 
1 cotton skirt
2 REI quick dry, sunscreen t-shirts
1 long sleeve button-up shirt 
1 fleece
1 rain jacket
Flip flops 
1 pair of smart wool leggings (added in León)

Personal care:
Sarong (towel, picnic blanket, scarf...)
Toiletries (small sizes, things that will serve more than one purpose, I buy more as I go)
Small first aid kit (again, just a few things, almost every town has a pharmacy)
Wax earplugs (one night in an albergue and this is obviously a necessity!)
Assortment of vitamins and supplements (I didn’t bring everything I take, but the important ones to keep in my system)
Swiss army tool (very small blade, nail clippers, file, scissors - Gracias to A for this!)
Universal sink plug (helps a lot with laundry)

Buff (headband, eyes cover, scarf...)
Sunglasses + case
Reusable shopping bag (there is enough plastic in the world, including on the Camino!) 
Mini flashlight 
Bed bug spray (an ounce of prevention...)
Journal + pen
Lightweight sleeping bag (.42 kilo)
2 new walking sticks! I liked using them. 
Plastic fork/spoon/knife (one utensil does all 3)
Snacks (weight varies!)

Money belt with passport, cash, cards 
Pilgrim's passport (in a plastic bag)

iPhone + charger + headphones 
Fitbit + charger 
Angkor charger (this is an extra, but I get anxiety when my device runs low)

Yes, I carried all of this every single day!

What you will pack for your Camino will probably vary; it’s actually a very personal process to put together your items. What one person considers essential will be an extra for another and vice versa. 

¡Buen Camino!

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Post-Camino Culture Shock

Just a few observations...

1. Riding on a bus! Whoa! So fast! I got back to Santiago in less than two hours... it took me four days to walk to the coast!

The day I walked into Muxia. 

2. Arrows! It takes a long time to re-adjust to seeing arrows in the same way after spying them and following them for 6 weeks. I followed the arrows out of the bus station, and they did, in fact, point to the exit, but it was a wholly automatic reaction. 

It worked again when I was trying to find the post office today. Some readers should check their mail! ;)

3. Clothes! I haven’t thought a lot about what I put on this last month and a half, except for what is dry, clean and warm/cool. Technically, I had a choice everyday of a blue or turquoise top. Everyone in the cities looks so clean and stylish. The shops are overwhelming. Still, I took a little time to buy a new top; I wanted to wear something absolutely clean to travel back to Madrid. I also feel a kindred sense of belonging with the past pilgrims who burned everything and started fresh. (Hiking/athletic clothes are expensive so here’s hoping that some of what I have works for future hikes/pilgrimages.)

Here I am on top of the cathedral in the spot that really signified the end of the pilgrimage - where the pilgrims burned their clothes. 

4. Time. Although I woke up way early (even for a pilgrim), I felt time in a different way today. I lingered over my almond milk café con leche once I got to Santiago since it was raining and I took time to visit the pilgrims museum this morning (I highly recommend it.) and I went back to the cathedral and looked around without the crowds. It was really nice just to wander. 

One last look at Santiago. 

One of the first Camino guidebooks. 

Then and now pilgrim garb.

Art made from pilgrims’ walking sticks. 

I also did the Cathedral Roof tour and I also recommend it! It was so cool to hear the history and see views of the city. You get to go up where most people don’t go, inside the church and right on top of the roof!

View from above. 

Look at me, ma!

The rain stopped just in time for our tour. 

5. Albergues. Albergues are great when we are all more or less on the same routine. I’m at a nice one on the city center today, but it’s so loud... you can tell the Camino is over and that everyone has their own schedule. I definitely recommend staying in the albergues if you do the Camino, but after I’d suggest switching to a pension or hotel. 

I’m in the Primitivo room. :)

Kilometers walked: 13.91 (Fitbit). You know you wanted to know! ;)

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Day 44: Lires - Muxia

Once upon a time I started the Camino... and today I finished walking! There is no where left to go, I walked to Santiago, then the sea at the end of the world and now along the end of the world’s coast. Muxia is gorgeous in a wind blown, wild and less visited kind of way. 

But, first I had to get here... my internal alarm dinged just before 7 and I was awake. I did some stretching in bed and then gathered my things so I could pack up outside of the shared room. I went downstairs for coffee at 7:30 and happily sipped my americano, caught up with friends and family on the wonderful what’s app technology and ate some of my gluten free bread with strawberry jam. The television showed the news and it was all bad. I lingered as there was no reason to leave in the dark (sunrise is almost at 9 now). 

Around 8:20 the sky was dark blue so I set off. I gazed at the silvery sliver moon, carefully followed my shells and crossed a bridge leaving town. 

I didn’t take too many pictures to start because I was just really soaking in my last day. 

Storm and fire stories have been in the news, but I saw blue skies and only smelled pine, eucalyptus and farms. I walked and walked, not taking breaks. There are days, and times, when the Camino still feels very hard, my backpack very heavy or my body very tired, even with all my practice. But, I also feel stronger and I know my pace has picked up. 

I ran into a French pilgrim (heading to Finisterre) that I’d stayed with way back in Estella (Day 7). We stopped and chatted about post-Camino plans, the sea and what the way felt like now. We are both ready for the next thing. It’s good! It’s so crazy-cool how you can see someone weeks later and still have a sense of camrederie. 

Turning back towards the ocean has not lost its charm. 

At this point the Camino begins its descent into Muxia and it is absolutely unbelievably beautiful. 

Coming into town. 

I thought I would stay at one more Municipal Albergue, but it wasn’t open at noon as I passed, I thought I would have a coffee and a wander and head back, but then I remembered H’s recommendation from a few days earlier. I happily checked in to a private albergue in the center of town, received my Muxia Compostela certificate and visited the grocery store. I made a salad and some rice here and then it was nap time. 

Raquel, my backpack, next to my bed. This place is great - individual charging stations and night stands, privacy curtains and lockers. And they even let you use a real towel!

Wandering around Muxia is a great end to Camino life. The sea breeze, chilled out vibe and smiles from fellow pilgrims all add to the town’s atmosphere. 

First entering town:

The harbor:

Seaside street:

More boots and beaches:

Rain has blown in this afternoon, so I’ve had some time for writing, music and relaxing at the albergue. The scene has really changed. I am on the Coast of Death at the end of the world; it seems appropriate that the weather turn dark. Despite the clouds, rain and wind, I set out just before 7 in the evening to walk the last kilometer out to the edge of it all; I’m from Seattle!, rain won’t stop me, I thought. 

The beginning of the climb up:

The weather didn’t stop me, but it was fierce! I made my way carefully, following the arrows along the path and then rocks. 

They went past the cemetery. 

I saw a dog eating some chicken bones that someone had left and it stopped me. I realized it had been a long time since I saw a stray. 

I made it to the top of the hill and looked back at Muxia. Same town, but different look! And, the dog had followed me! He seemed to know where to go, we kept moving closer towards the coast. 

Laughing in the wind and rain; what else do you do?!?

The path evened out, and, well, became an actual path again. I followed my doggy guide. 

We saw the sites:

An amazing church stands out there:

And I took one last picture of the lighthouse before I started fearing for my phone’s wellbeing. I was drenched!

I zipped my precious in my raincoat pocket and hurried back to town and my albergue. 

Dinner at the albergue, using the dryer, catching up on the phone with Y and a little planning for tomorrow followed. Tomorrow: Santiago, Thursday: Madrid, Friday: Málaga!!!

I have at least two more Camino blogs to write (what I packed, the differences between the French and Original ways), but entry 44 ends this creative project on 17/10/17, 6 weeks after it started. I do like numbers. Thank you again to all my readers and to everyone who helped me get to the Camino. I hope you will experience it, too, one day. 

Buen camino a todos. 

Kilometers walked: 21.45 (Fitbit), 15.7 (Guidebook from the pilgrim office in Santiago). I walked all over town and out to the lighthouse and back. :)